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Lincoln initially placed great faith in McClellan to lead the Union Army to victory. In examining this page, start first with the video clip and the images arrayed at right. What does each of these reveal to us about the interactions between Lincoln and his general? Also, study the Wordle above, which is a snapshot of an essay written on Lincoln and McClellan from the site Abraham Lincoln's classroom. What clues might these words give us about Lincoln's frustrations?


For further study, consider the primary and secondary documents arrayed below to assess the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between Lincoln and McClellan. 

For further study:

The sources listed below are a collection of primary and secondary documents that further deal with the McClellan/Lincoln relationship. Read through them as a complement to the video, or else see the sample question set in the Resources section.

Source A

Lincoln and McClellan. Retrieved from Abraham Lincoln's Classroom

This source discusses McClellan's feelings in the summer of 1862.


The general felt the displeasure back in Washington. McClellan wrote Ellen in a mood of depression: 'I feel that fate of a nation depends upon me, & I feel that I have not one single friend at the seat of Govt - any day may bring an order relieving me from command - if such a thing should be done our cause is lost." He didn't do anything to make friends. McClellan's personality required constant praise and reenforcement. He persisted in overestimating the enemy and underestimating the President. He compensated for his lack of dispatch on the battlefield with his impudence in dispatches after the battle. McClellan was defeated in the Seven Days' Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862). After his defeat in the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, General George B. McClellan wrote his superiors in Washington,"I again repeat that I am not responsible for this & I say it with the earnestness of a General who feels in his heart the loss of every brave man who has been needlessly sacrificed today....I have seen too many dead & wounded comrades to feel otherwise than that the Govt has not sustained this Army. If you do not do so now the game is lost. If I save this Army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or any other persons in Washington - you have done your best to sacrifice this Army." The comments were so insubordinate that telegraph operators deleted the offending remarks from the transcript they delivered to Secretary of War Stanton and President Lincoln.


Source B

A letter from Abraham Lincoln to George McClellan. February 3rd, 1862. Retrieved from the Library of Congress
This source relates to the Peninsula Campaign as envisioned by McClellan.


My dear Sir
You and I have distinct and different plans for a movement of the Army of the Patomac. Yours to be down the Chesapeake, up the Rappahannock to Urbanna and across land to the terminus of the railroad on the York river -- mine to move directly to a point on the Railroad South West of Manassas.

If you will give me satisfactory answers to the following questions I shall gladly yield my plan to yours.

1st Does not your plan involve a greatly larger expenditure of time and money than mine?

2d Wherein is a victory more certain by your plan than mine?

3d Wherein is a victory more valuable by your plan than mine?

4th In fact would it not be less valuable in this that it would break no great line of the enemies communication while mine would?

5th In case of disaster would not a safe retreat be more difficult by your plan than by mine

Yours truly

A. Lincoln


Source C

An excerpt from Louis P. Masur's book The Civil War, A Concise History, published in 2011. pg. 38-39. Print


Lincoln longed to find what was best for the Union cause. Unable to sleep, losing weight, he tried to maintain a positive attitude, but the only unadulterated good news all spring had been the capture of New Orleans by Admiral David Farragut in late April. On July 7, Lincoln traveled to Harrison's landing, a stretch of five miles or so on the east side of the James River, to see McClellan and visit the troops.


McClellan presented Lincoln with a letter explaining that he thought the war 'should be conducted upon the highest principles known to Christian Civilization. It should not be a War looking to the subjugation of the people of any state, in any event...Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.'


Source D

'Recollections of Mr. Lincoln,' a publication reprinted by the New York Times in 1865. Retrieved from the New York Times Website

This source relates to Lincoln's preliminary discussions of the Emancipation Proclamation with his Cabinet during the summer of 1862.


Secretary SEWARD spoke. Said he: "Mr. President, I approve of the [Emancipation] proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind, consequent upon our repeated reverses is so great that I fear the effect of so important to step. It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government -- a cry for help; the government stretching forth its hands … it would be considered our last shrick, on the retreat." ...


Mr. SEWARD [continued], "while I approve the measure, I suggest, Sir, that you postpone its issue, until you can give it to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing, as would be the case now, upon the greatest disasters of the war!"


Said Mr. LINCOLN: "The wisdom of the view of the Secretary of State struck me with very great force. It was an aspect of the case, that, in all my thought upon the subject, I had entirely overlooked. The result was that I put the draft of the proclamation aside, as you do your sketch for a picture, waiting for a victory.


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